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8 Ideas for Substitute Teachers with No Lesson Plan

Posted by Kevin Kerns on 7/11/16 3:19 PM

Substitute teaching can be a highly rewarding experience. From helping students reach their learning goals and developing crucial skills to making friends with school staff, substitute teaching can be a fulfilling - and fun! - job. However, every substitute teacher has their bad days, especially when the regular teacher forgets to leave a lesson plan. To make sure you’re never unprepared, we’re listing several activities and ideas for filling the entire class time.




1. Write away!

What better way to pass the time than writing? Students can express their creativity and have fun all at the same time. Ask students to take out a notebook (or a tablet or computer depending on the school) and write about anything and everything – whatever comes to mind.

They could write about their interests, extracurricular activities, families or pets. Or they could let their imagination take flight and write a fictional story. Once they’ve finished writing, you can have the students read in front of the class or exchange their work with an assigned partner.

2. Start a story

If you’re teaching younger students, you could have the entire class sit in a circle on the floor and participate in a storytelling session. Start with one word, and then go around the circle. Each student will add one word at a time, creating a silly story. You can determine when to stop or leave it up to the students. Your students will have a blast and connect with one another.

3. Bring puzzles, word searches and coloring pages

Make sure to always have puzzles, word searches, coloring pages and other activities on hand. Depending on the age group you’re teaching, you can have the class work on crossword puzzles or actual “toy” puzzles. Word searches will also help pass the time and keep the students engaged. Coloring pages are a great option for elementary school students.

4. Play an educational game

Who doesn’t love playing games? You can turn classics, such as Pictionary, into a game for the entire classroom. Simply divide the classroom into two teams. Pick a category (current events, history, literature or any topic relevant to the class and the subject you’re teaching) and have one student from each team choose what they will be drawing from a hat. The first team to guess wins the round, and you can keep the game going for as long as you wish.

5. Improv

Improvisation classes aren’t just for actors, and the games aren’t just for improv classes. If you’re struggling to fill class time, you can incorporate improv games. Games such as “Pass the Ball” and “Yes, and…” encourage students to think on their feet and can give them a boost of self-confidence.

6. Lead a discussion

If you’re teaching older students, you could start a meaningful discussion on a relevant topic. You could talk about world history, politics, science, philosophy or almost anything. Have a student choose a category from a list and dive into a discussion related to this category. They can state their opinion or ask a question. Then they can either pick the next student to continue the discussion, or students can volunteer. Encourage students to speak up but make sure to keep the discussion civil and respectful.

7. Create a storyboard

Bring a few short stories and divide the class into groups. Have them draw out the story on sheets of paper, similar to the way a script is drawn into a storyboard. Ask them to hang their pictures across the board and act out the story. They can even write an actual script if time allows.


Everyone touts the benefits of reading, so why not read a novel or story to your students? You could read a book they’ve already started as a class or one you’ve brought with you. Be sure to choose a book or story that’s appropriate for the grade level and the subject you’re teaching. You can read aloud to the class or have students take turns reading off of copies you’ve made.

To ensure your day goes smoothly, always have a backup plan for any class. You never know when a lesson plan won’t be available. Have a “sub bag” ready the night before with the materials we’ve mentioned here, and you’ll be ready for any situation.


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Topics: substitute teaching